Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Present Matthew 2:13-23

We look for certainty and security, predictability and comfort at Christmas every year. And then we start reading the real story of Christmas in Matthew and find anything but what we were looking for in the story. It isn't what we want to hear; but Jesus came to deal with what we can't--life's complications that require a savior--sin, death, and the devil.

A friend confided that she's always disappointed at Christmas. No one can make it as good as it's supposed to be. I'm dumbfounded and resist the urge to give her the advice I give my daughters, "SNAP OUT OF IT". She has children, a home, family (while imperfect) who love her, a husband who respects her, and her every basic need is met (and then some by global standards); yet she is still yearning for something more--some point of certainty in an uncertain world.

Reading Matthew we find out that Joseph had to be convinced by the angel to accept Jesus as his son. Next we learn that this same Jesus was wanted and hoped for by many. Visitors came bringing him gifts from the East. But then the story turns ugly. Children were killed as King Herod looked for Jesus. Jeremiah is quoted, Rachel is inconsolable. Bethlehem weeped, crying out to God. The prophet told Israel, Jeremiah 31:16-17

This is what the LORD says:
"Restrain your voice from weeping
and your eyes from tears,
for your work will be rewarded,"
declares the LORD.
"They will return from the land of the enemy.

17 So there is hope for your future,"
declares the LORD.
"Your children will return to their own land.

These words would be unheard through the weeping. But the promise would remain. Jesus came as the child of promise for a broken world. His birth did not redeem the world; that would require his own death.

Our holiday traditions are an attempt to find a fixed point in an uncertain world. We look for safety but there isn't any. We merge Christ's story with family traditions hoping that old stories and songs and rituals will keep us safe from our old enemies; but sin, death, and the devil are always there ready to destroy. Jesus came for this: to be the light house in the storm. His birth did not bring peace; but his death would bring life.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Joseph ... don't be afraid...share God's dream. Matthew 1:18-25

In my first year as a pastor I preached 3 sermons in 3 days at Christmas time. I decided to try different perspectives on Christmas each day. Christmas Eve was for Mary's view. Christmas Day, with the high sounding theology of John 1 was for Jesus' side of the story. Sunday, December 26 1999 was Joseph's story. This week lends itself to that same kind of story telling. My suggestion, start with Joseph's story on December 23; let everything else fall where it well, the story is what matters.

Joseph's story gets time in Matthew's Gospel and Mary's gets its time in Luke. We only know a few details of Joseph's life up to this point in Matthew because Matthew starts with Joseph's genealogy. We know one thing for certain, he was in the line of David, a true member of the nation of Israel. Everything else we know by assumption. He must have been old enough to be married and Mary's family had probably accepted him as a husband for her.

We assume as people listening to this story Joseph had dreams and hopes like every person we've ever met. He was engaged to marry. He most likely dreamed of having children, building a home, and getting on with life. Joseph's dreams took a turn with the news that Mary was pregnant. He knew that the child wasn't his; and he chose to look away from his dreams involving her and start over in a new direction.

Joseph's meeting with an angel in a dream started his life, and the whole world in turn, on a different course than he expected. The angel began with a word of reassurance, "Joseph, fear not..." Sure Joseph had dreams before; but this one dream was different. This one dream wasn't Joseph's own alone; he shared this dream with God. Some read Matthew 1:18-25 and say the angel pointed to a very old dream. Isaiah spoke of God's dream to an obstinate king, Ahaz, when he turned his back on the God of Israel. Isaiah 7:13-15 

13 Then Isaiah said, “Ahaz, descendant of David, listen carefully! Isn’t it bad enough that you wear out the patience of people? Do you also have to wear out the patience of my God? 14 The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be pregnant. She will have a son, and she will name him Immanuel. 15 He will be eating milk curds and honey when he learns to reject what is evil and to choose what is good. NCV (New Century Version)
Joseph and Mary weren't in this alone. God was going with them into history. He was coming, the angels declared his presence to them, now they both were called to live it out. They had different dreams but both pointed them to what God was up to in this one child Jesus. The dreams were one of God's points of contact in their lives. Even before the dreams they had to word of the prophets to reveal the will of God to them. John Chrysostom wrote 1600 years ago,
And the angel proceeds to refer Joseph to Isaiah; in order that even if he should, when awakened, forget his own words, as newly spoken, he might by being reminded of those of the prophet, with which he had been nourished up continually, retain likewise the substance of what he had said. ECF Schaff, Philip. The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Vol. X. Saint Chrysostom: Homilies of the Gospel of Saint Matthew Homily 5. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997. (please note Chrysostom's foul antisemitism pervades this homily right along side of his intense sense of the Gospel. Use with caution.)
The point the angel was making to Joseph, and that Matthew is trying to make for us, is that Joseph years later shared in a long standing dream with God. They in that night dreamed together of a child Joseph would call Jesus and who we would call Emmanuel. In Luke Mary had her own dream that she shared with God of a child she would call Jesus.

This wasn't the only time Joseph shared a dream with God. In Matthew 2:13-15 a dream would move him and his whole family into safety in Egypt. Nor is this the only time we share a dream with God. Jesus is God's Word in flesh, he is Emmanuel.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Jesus, are you the one? Matthew 11:2-11

John the Baptist's followers came to Jesus with a question in Matthew 11:3, "Art thou the coming one? or are we to wait for another?" 1890 Darby Bible. It's the question Christians have to ask Jesus. Even John the Baptist had to ask Jesus this question. John's calling was to prepare the way for the one and now in prison John sent out his followers to ask Jesus, "Are you the one?" John's ministry faded away. Herod held him captive loving to hear him speak and fearing his words at the same time.

John's ministry was over as fast at it had begun. In Matthew John the Baptist just appeared as a prophet. In Matthew 3:2 John called out "μετανοει̂τε" change/repent. He just appeared in Mark, and John's Gospels too as the forerunner, the prophet of God calling for repentance before the Christ arrives. Luke tells John's biography. His birth was foretold by an angel to his father while he was serving God as priest at the Temple. (Luke 1:5-25) He lept in the womb when his mother met Mary carrying the infant Jesus. (Luke 1:39-45) But in Matthew he just appeared.

The mystery to John in Matthew shouldn't be overlooked as we hear of his imprisonment and his own questioning of Jesus. John's own calling as a prophet amazes us. He had purpose and vision and he stood out boldly. His call for repentance was heard; but not universally heeded. But that was only part of his ministry; he was to prepare the way. Imprisoned he wondered if Jesus was the one. It didn't start this way, he was the wild one outside of civilization and now civilization held him bound.

Luke and Mark say that John preached a baptism of repentance/change for the forgiveness of sins Luke 3:3 κηρύσσων βάπτισμα μετανοίας εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιω̂ν Black, Greek New Testament. 3rd ed UBS. Mark 1:4 tells it much the same. The crowds came out to be baptized. The Gospel of John begins with a detailed explanation of John's ministry as the one who came before Jesus. And now reading Matthew 11 we see that this it for John, asking from a cell through emissaries, "are you the one?"

John's ministry as, baptizer and forerunner, brought him into the imagination of the people and into the prison of King Herod. Jesus said that he was more than a prophet, he was the one to prepare the way, but now he was the one in a cell sending out his followers to meet Jesus. His words outside of the walls of society had been heard by those in power inside the walls. Herod chose to have John locked away. An old teacher of mine, Jim Nestingen wrote,

John’s fate is linked to his Lord’s. So, having heard him sounding forth in the desert the radical freedom of detachment, we find him now doubly attached—in prison, yet held even more firmly by the One whom he has proclaimed (Matt 11:2-11).
John's fate was real, just one enticing dance by a young woman was all it cost in the end to see the Baptist's head on a silver platter (Matthew 14:1-12). His days in prison were days to question and to hope. John's ministry would end but Jesus' would grow. And with Jesus ministry came a new hope,
"Go back to John and tell him about what you have heard and seen—the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor." Matthew 11:4-5 New Living Translation
Hope began with John's call for repentance; hope grew as Jesus healed and forgave the hurting; hope died for 3 days as the cross claimed Jesus life; but the love of God did not end. Hope grew fresh from the stump in the resurrection not only that we could have freedom through repentance but that that through Christ crucified and risen we might die to sin, death and the devil. John's message, repent, will forever be linked to Jesus life, dying and rising. He came to prepare the way for hope...

Monday, December 3, 2007

Repent Heaven is Near Matthew 3:1-11

Life with a Lectionary (like the Revised Common Lectionary) gives one the opportunity and the challenge to hear powerful parts of God's word again and again. John the Forerunner's words stop me hard every year. Right about the time my wife is saying, "Have you found any Christmas spirit yet?" John the Baptist, this fiery preacher, comes in calling me to repent. John preached waiting for the altar call, waiting for the moment when people would come out to wilderness to meet him at the river so they could lay down their troubles and be baptized.

Every year we hear John's words; and he comes into our presence this year with his clarion call.

μετανοει̂τε· ἤγγικεν γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τω̂ν οὐρανω̂ν.
Matthew 3:2 From Black, Matthew, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger, and Allen Wikgren. The Greek New Testament. United Bible Societies, 1997, c198
John was the one sent to call the people of Judah to come forward and repent. In Matthew 3:2 John's declares the heart of his message. He was not vague. John spoke a command μετανοει̂τε he wanted action and passion that his hearers might be ready to live in the sovereignty of heaven.
transform yourselves for near to you comes the sovereignty of Heaven
Some say John preached for a change of heart, other for repentance. I say he preached wanting to see us radically transform our lives now for the power of Heaven has come near to us. He preached for the moment of transformation and for the life that life that would come after we turn around in order to be ready for heaven to come near. Jesus arrival in Bethlehem, his ministry, his death, and rising are all what John was called the people to be ready to see. Today is our time to get ready to meet him.